The All-In-One Position

I titled this week’s blog post to encompass this week’s reading from the Digital Literacy For Technical Communication and the focus on the profession of technical writers. I felt in each of my experiences at different companies the position, “technical writer,” has been loosely defined.

Technical Communicator

In Chapter 1, the roles and requirements for what this field contain are laid out in a neatly organized grid showcasing the changes from early 1970’s to current. In the 70’s a technical writer’s role included, “Wordsmithing the technical specifications so that they would be useful as reference documentation by trained personnel.” Now, fast forward to our current year, a technical writer role may consist of “Designing large databases of technical content and providing that content. Overseeing the creation and publication of user-created content.”

Dicks said, “Work processes that once took one to two years have been condensed and now take three to six months. Through the capabilities that technology provided, technical writers have become their own designers, illustrators and production assistants, and with the assistance of spelling and grammar checkers, their own editors, too.”

Dicks’s statement above is a solid interpretation of what the technical writer profession may look like for some, especially those who may play multiple roles in their organization.

In my own experience, I’ve held a few different jobs after graduating with my Bachelor of Science from UW-Madison in Communications with positions that are directly related to the fields of marketing and communication. Not surprisingly, in each of these positions and departments from the various companies, I spent roughly half of my days sending emails back and forth to individuals inside and outside the company. In addition, to the constant correspondence across the organization, I contributed to the marketing and event promotions for the respective company. While contributing to the multitude of duties one must complete to promote an upcoming event you can begin to visualize content, materials, video items, etc. that all go into an event. With this, as someone who works and helps lead an organization in the marketing and communication department it’s not uncommon for me to help print, create PDFs, update website content, add logos, sponsors, event detail to various promotional material in Adobe Creative Suites, help edit or review video, and lastly disseminate all of this either online or at the event.

Although my role now does not contain the keywords, “Technical Writer,” in my job description or even my title I am constantly contributing to the various tasks and key elements a technical writer’s responsibilities encompass.

One individual shares their own experience with technical writing and offers a few takeaways in their blog titled, “How I Broke Into Technical Writing – And Why You Should Too,” including:

  1. There will always be work
  2. You learn as you go
  3. The work is straight forward
  4. It’s a lucrative option

Technology and Technical Writers

Another blog, For Technical Writers, The Future Looks Bright,” begins to illustrate the field of technical communication in a positive way explaining why the future for those who undertake this profession may have a bright future.

While I think both of the blogs listed above do a great job on illustrating the needs and demands of the technical communicator profession, they also share personal anecdotes of first-hand experience to help argue their main point. As technology continues to change, new individuals enter and leave the workforce, it only allows for me to stop and ponder, What this field will look like in the next 20 years and what will the necessary skills for someone to work in this field resemble?

Posted on October 28, 2018, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Great post! I find myself wondering the same as you… “What this field will look like in the next 20 years and what will the necessary skills for someone to work in this field resemble?”

    I actually worry about that quite a bit because I will be trying to return to the field in the next 3-4 years and I am already seeing so much has changed since I was last employed.

    I remember that, in my last Tech Writer job before I took off to raise my kids, my title was Tech Writer, but I spent some of my time also creating carton graphics and denying/approving them with the printer. It seems that so much can be lumped into the job of a technical writer – and often it falls in there because, hey, it includes words. Haha

    Rebecca

    • Hi Rebecca,

      I’m glad that we both are curious about the future of technology and the field of technical writing/communication. As someone who is interested in learning more about the user experience side of how we interact and engage with technology and helping to find or pave the way for what’s next, I often reflect on “robots” and how current technology such as far-field voice technology (such as Alexa, Siri, etc.) are already offering users another way of retrieving information. I know much of the workforce uses interpersonal communication via email to interact with others, but in 10 years will this be the “norm,” or will virtual assistants, robots and more advanced technology shape our current interactions?

      I agree with you that the changes we notice now, some require steep learning curves and while some educational courses help assist with learning this type of information, users still have access to tools such as Lynda.com were they can begin to learn and explore what they need in order to help them accomplish their task. One of the challenges that persist for me in the workplace is handling the backend of websites and trying to navigate tools like wordpress. While I am knowledgeable and know a little bit of coding to consider myself “intermediate” at this skill, I would by no means qualify myself as advanced. But, the transition for me to go from intermeddiate to advanced what does it look like? Would a programming class be sufficient? These are questions that I often begin to ask myself and while I agree with the text that much of technology and technical writing encompasses the need for users to have a certain level of knowledge, what is that certain level?

      I concur and know exactly where you are coming from when you begin to mention the need for technical writers are those who happen to know how to write in a stylistic way the preference for them to also be the eye or lead on a graphic design, infographic, flyer, etc. While I believe a majority of technical communicators can do this and often do perform these tasks, there are still experts who receive a degree in graphic design or video production who may offer other perspectives and ideas for what the visual document, event program, etc. should look like.

      Thank you for your response to my blog post this week. I am very curious to see what the future looks like and even though I see some challenges in the workplace now, what will these challenges look like in the next few years and are these challenges I experience similar to others in the workplace?

      Thank you,

      Kim

  2. I really enjoyed the blog posts you linked to this post. They were both helpful to me. As a former technical writer (I think), both of the posts you referenced match up with what I’ve learned from experience. I’ve learned that although the position of technical writer might evolve as our use of technology does, it doesn’t look like it is going away any time soon. However, as I mentioned in my post, one might find them self in a technical writer role with a completely different official job title. Companies often pull on resources from within to help with short term tech writing roles. But, if you can actually land a technical writing job, you’ll probably get paid more.

    One interesting fact i noted about the changes in technical writing is the shift from being a male dominated role to now a female dominated one. Spilka writes, “As recently as 25 years ago, most technical communicators were men who, according to Hayhoe, called themselves “technical writers or editors.”” She goes on to write, “Today, a majority of technical communicators are women” (2010, Spilka). Personally, most technical writers I’ve known are women. I’m wondering if you have a perspective on this?

    • Hi Lisa,

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful feedback! That’s very interesting that much of what I wrote about already aligned well with your prior experience. I think this absolutely speaks to your reference of technology changing, but the position of a technical writer still remaining. I concur with you that I don’t see this position going away anytime soon either.

      It’s interesting to note that the field of communications encompasses so much information that at times even individuals who are holding these positions are experiencing title changes, etc. It makes me wonder what the title of someone with the technical communicator background will even be in the next 3 to 5 years.

      I like your inclusion from Spilka about the technical writing role shifting from one in which is heavily male dominated to one that’s more prevalent for females. I do think this is an interesting aside. I don’t have a particular stance on why the role may be more oriented towards women. I would be curious to look into this more in order to gain a deeper understanding on this. I do recall while receiving my Bachelors at UW-Madison more of my classes were definitely filled with females rather than males.

      Thank you,

      Kim

  3. Kim,

    Great blog post this week! You said, “In my own experience, I’ve held a few different jobs after graduating with my Bachelor of Science from UW-Madison in Communications with positions that are directly related to the fields of marketing and communication.” I have had similar experiences. I also have my BS from UW in Communications and all of my positions have been tied to communication, marketing and event planning. And although the core of my responsibilities have been similar, i.e. comm strategy, social media, event organization, each position itself has been very different.

    So it does raise the question of what this position and the position of the technical writer will look like in the next 20 years. Will it become more automated? I find myself in my day to day work trying to automate some of the tasks I do. Will it become more complex?

    One thing I find in my job as a “Communication Specialist” is that I get assigned a lot of random duties that don’t necessarily fit into my job description, but because I’m the communications person and my role is more loosely defined than say an accountant, I take on a lot that doesn’t fit anywhere else. Does this mean the position needs more structure? Maybe. But I think with time, as the role of “communicators” and “writers” get defined these types of positions will take on new functions.

    • Hi Brittney,

      Thank you for the reply this week. It’s definitely interesting to see how across the board communications and marketing departments tend to be the “hub” or expert area in just about anything that’s related to digital printing, user experience, designing, writing content and adding or even adjusting documents, power points, etc. with necessary branding. There are times too where I find myself assisting with a variety of content such as graphics, or helping communicate a video message in terms of the story board, even though I am not a graphic designer or an expert in video.. I wonder if hiring managers and companies are more aware or weed out candidates with limited capabilities and begin to search for those who fulfill the more “all around” candidate? This would be very interesting to look into.

      Thanks for your feedback this week and sharing your experiences within your place of work.

      – Kim

  4. Hi Kim,

    As always, great blog post featuring thought-provoking, quality content.

    It seems you possess a wide range of experience within the communications field. I must ask, while handling email communications, did you find yourself getting frustrated with “lazy” written communication? Examples include but are not limited to one-word responses, abbreviations, and missing salutations/closings. For me, in a work setting, such lackadaisical written communication is the equivalent of nails scratching a chalkboard.

    Thank you for posting those four takeaways from the How I Broke Into Technical Writing – And Why You Should Too blog (This blog title should be italicized – Does anyone know how I can implement this within a WordPress comment?). To be honest, I have already screenshot and saved these four takeaways as my mobile device wallpaper. Needless to say, I plan to refer to these takeaways often, especially while pushing through the most challenging of days.

    Thank you for the awesome post!

    ~Jeff

    • Hi Jeff,

      Thanks so much for the kind words and feedback. I do sometimes find this sort of written communication a nuisance, however I begin to expect the workplace to shift more towards this style of communication, especially with the use of smartphones and tablets I go back and forth with the whole concept behind a proper email and if it should always be this way. I tend to find myself using more structured communication when I am on a computer or communicating with those outside of our organization. I wonder if others are making note of this in their organizations as well or experiencing similar styles of correspondence?

      Thanks again for your feedback and continuing to further the conversation on communication in the workplace.

      – Kim

  5. Nice work! As someone who has been at Stout for 10 years now, where the Tech Comm major began in 2000 and was then revised in 2010 to be Professional Communication and Emerging Media, I desperately want to share this with our current students:

    One individual shares their own experience with technical writing and offers a few takeaways in their blog titled, “How I Broke Into Technical Writing – And Why You Should Too,” including:

    There will always be work
    You learn as you go
    The work is straight forward
    It’s a lucrative option

    While we’ve seen the numbers of our major grow, hardly any one chooses the Tech Comm route, even with internships in Minneapolis practically handed to them on a platter! Our other concentrations are Applied Journalism and Digital Humanities, with AJ getting the majority of students, likely because it is the term they are most familiar with.

    I’ll share the link to that blog with our current on-campus program director!

    • Hi Professor Pignetti,

      This is very interesting to learn more about students and and even future students who are parting from the technical communication degree? It makes me curious if this has to do with any of the roles and responsibilities with a communications degree allows for one to part with taking the technical communicator route. I feel that communication is a huge part of any organization and there are always items you can learn from it.

      This is very interesting to learn about the multitude of career opportunities one has at their disposal when choosing the technical profession communication route.

      Thank you,

      Kim

      • I actually wonder if it is because they don’t understand what technical communication is aside from manual writing. We go above and beyond offering examples that aren’t as “dry,” and have moved nearly all of the formerly only Tech Comm concentration courses into the Core classes so everyone in the major has to take them. But as a former program director who received all those internship listings that no one jumped on, I’ll honestly never know. The main thing I concern myself with now is making them strong writers so whatever they end up doing after graduation they will have strong voices and recognize a variety of genres.

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